Category Archives: D. A. Carson

December 31 For the love of God (Vol. 2)

2 Chronicles 36; Revelation 22; Malachi 4; John 21


of all the resurrection appearances of Jesus, doubtless the one that probed Peter most deeply is the one reported in John 21.

It starts off with seven disciples going fishing, catching nothing overnight, and then pulling in a vast catch at Jesus’ command. It continues with a breakfast over coals on the beach (21:1–14). There follows the memorable exchange that reinstates Peter after his ignominious disowning of his master.

(1) In the interchange between Jesus and Peter (21:15–17), the interplay of two different Greek words for “love” has convinced many commentators that there is something profoundly weighty about the distinction (though the distinction itself is variously explained). For various reasons, I remain unpersuaded. John loves to use synonyms, with very little distinction in meaning. The terms vary for feed/take care/feed, and for lambs/sheep/sheep, just as they varied for “love.” In 3:35, the Father “loves” the Son, and one of the two verbs is used; in 5:20, the Father “loves” the Son, and the other of the two verbs is used—and there is no distinction in meaning whatsoever. Both verbs can have good or bad connotations; everything is determined by context. If we are to probe the significance of this exchange between Jesus and Peter, we shall have to depend on something other than the interchange of the two Greek verbs. So drop the “truly” in 21:15 and 16 (which is the NIV’s way of trying to maintain a distinction between the two verbs).

(2) “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” (21:15, italics added). Does “these” refer to “these other disciples” or to “these fish”? In Matthew 26:33, Peter boasts that he will never fall away, even if all the other disciples do. That boast is not reported in John’s gospel, even though John records Peter’s awful denials. Alternatively, since the men have just been fishing, perhaps “these” refers to the fish. But if so, why pick only on Peter, and not on all seven disciples? On balance, I suspect this passage is reminding Peter of his fateful boast, and this is one of the passages that provides a kind of interlocking of accounts between John and the Synoptic Gospels. Is Peter still prepared to assert his moral superiority over the other disciples?

(3) Three times Jesus runs through the same question; three times he elicits a response; three times he commissions Peter. As the denial was threefold (18:15–18, 25–27), so also are these steps of restoration. Peter is “hurt” by the procedure (21:17); the next verses show he still retains streaks of immaturity (see vol. 1, meditation for March 31). But while Jesus here gladly restores a broken disciple who has disowned him, he makes him face his sin, declare his love, and receive a commission.[1]


[1] Carson, D. A. (1998). For the love of God: a daily companion for discovering the riches of God’s Word. (Vol. 2, p. 25). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

December 31 For the love of God (Vol. 1)

2 Chronicles 36; Revelation 22; Malachi 4; John 21


both of our primary readings for this last day of the year convey hope.

The first, 2 Chronicles 36, depicts the final destruction of Jerusalem. The Babylonians raze the city and the leading citizenry are transported seven or eight hundred miles from home. But the closing verses admit a whisper of hope. Babylon does not have the last word. Decades later the Persian empire takes over and becomes the regional superpower, and Cyrus the king authorizes the return of the exiles to Jerusalem and the construction of a new temple. Historically, of course, the Persians established this policy for all the peoples that the Babylonians had transported: they were all permitted to return home. But the chronicler rightly sees the application of this policy to Israel as supreme evidence of the hand of God, and a new stage in the history of redemption that would bring about the fulfillment of all God’s promises.

The hope depicted in the second reading, Revelation 22, is of a superior order. The opening verses complete the vision of Revelation 21. The blessedness of the consummation turns on such matters as these: the water of life flows freely from the throne of God and of the Lamb; all the results of the curse are expunged; God’s people will constantly see his face, i.e., they will forever be in his presence; there are no more cycles of night and day—again, the point is moral, not astronomical, i.e., there will be no more cycles of good and evil, of light and darkness, for all will live in the light of God.

Granted the sheer goodness and glory of this sustained and symbol-laden vision of the consummation and the triumph of redemption, the rest of the chapter is largely devoted to assuring the reader of the utter reliability of this vision, and therefore of the absolute importance of being among those “who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city” (22:14). Here, then, is the ultimate hope, such that if one turns away this time, there is no more hope. There is only a fearful anticipation of final wrath. We are not there yet, the author says, but the climax is not far away, and when it comes, it will be too late.

The resurrected and exalted Jesus, the one who is the Root and Offspring of David and the bright Morning Star (22:16), solemnly declares, “Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End” (22:12–13).[1]


[1] Carson, D. A. (1998). For the love of God: a daily companion for discovering the riches of God’s Word. (Vol. 1, p. 25). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

December 30 For the love of God (Vol. 2)

2 Chronicles 35; Revelation 21; Malachi 3; John 20


people may be faithless, but the Lord does not change. That changelessness threatens judgment; it is also the reason the people are not destroyed (Mal. 3:6). Hope depends on God’s gracious intervention, grounded in his changeless character (Mal. 3).

(1) “ ‘See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,’ says the Lord Almighty” (3:1). This promise sounds as if it is responding to the cynicism that set in after the second temple was built. There was the temple, but where was the glory Ezekiel had foreseen (Ezek. 43:1–5)? Only when the Lord comes will the purpose of the rebuilding of the temple be fulfilled. And the Lord will fulfill that promise. First, he will send his “messenger,” a forerunner “to prepare the way before me.” And then suddenly “the Lord you are seeking” will come to his temple, “the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire.” Despite valiant efforts to explain the text some other way, the most obvious reading is the one picked up just a few pages later in the Bible (though actually a few centuries later). Before the Lord himself comes—the Lord they seek, the messenger of the new covenant long promised—there is another messenger who prepares the way. Jesus insists that the forerunner of whom Malachi spoke is none other than John the Baptist (Matt. 11:10).

(2) Whenever God discloses himself in a special way to his people, and not least in this climactic self-disclosure, there is wrath as well as mercy. Anticipation of the “day of his coming” (3:2) therefore calls for profound repentance (3:2–5). Such repentance covers the sweep from the ugly sins listed in 3:5 to something more easily passed over, but clearly ugly to God: robbery, robbing God of the tithes and offerings that are his due (3:6–12). Away with the cynicism that says serving God is a waste of time and money, that there is no percentage in putting God at the center, that it is “futile” to serve the Lord (3:13–15).

(3) Not a few of the Old Testament prophets faithfully discharged their ministry and saw little fruit in their own times. Others witnessed something of a revival. Haggai saw the Lord so work among the people that the temple was rebuilt. Malachi, too, saw fruit in the lives of those who heeded his message and began to live in the light of the promise yet to be fulfilled: “Then those who feared the Lord talked with each other [presumably encouraging and stimulating one another to faithfulness], and the Lord listened and heard. A scroll of remembrance was written in his presence concerning those who feared the Lord and honored his name” (3:16).[1]


[1] Carson, D. A. (1998). For the love of God: a daily companion for discovering the riches of God’s Word. (Vol. 2, p. 25). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

December 30 For the love of God (Vol. 1)

2 Chronicles 35; Revelation 21; Malachi 3; John 20


at last we reach the climax of redemption (Rev. 21). In his final vision, John sees “a new heaven and a new earth” (21:1). Some notes:

(1) The absence of any sea (21:1) does not establish the hydrological principles of the new heaven and new earth. The sea, as we have noted before, is symbolic for chaos, the old order, death. And so the sea is gone.

(2) John also sees “the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God” (21:2). We are not to place this New Jerusalem within the new heaven and the new earth. They are two quite separate images of the final reality, two ways of depicting the one truth—not unlike the Lion and the Lamb in Revelation 5, where although there are two animals there is only one Jesus to whom these two animals refer. One way of thinking about the consummated glory is to conceive of it as a new universe, a new heaven and earth; another way of thinking about it is as the New Jerusalem—with many entailments to this latter image.

(3) Yet a third way of thinking of the consummation is to focus on the marriage supper of the Lamb (21:2, 9; cf. 19:9)—and here the bride is the New Jerusalem. The metaphors have become wonderfully mixed. But all can see that the consummation will involve perfect intimacy between the Lord Jesus and the people he has redeemed.

(4) Doubtless the perfections of the New Jerusalem are so far outside our experience that it is difficult to imagine them. But one way of getting at them is by negation: we are to understand what ugly things connected with sin and decay will not be present: there will be “no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (21:4).

(5) The city is an inherently social reality. The consummation is not a place of lone-ranger spirituality. Nor are all cities bad, like “Babylon,” the mother of prostitutes (chapter 17; see meditation for December 26). This city, the New Jerusalem, is described in many symbol-laden ways to depict its wonder and glory—too many to unpack here. But note that it is built as a perfect cube. This no more reflects its architecture than the lack of sea betrays the ultimate hydrological arrangements. The cube is symbolic: there is only one cube in the Old Testament, and that is the Most Holy Place of the temple, where only the priest could enter once a year, bearing blood for his own sins and for the sins of the people. Now the entire city is the Most Holy Place: in the consummation all of God’s people are perennially in the unshielded splendor of his glorious presence.[1]


[1] Carson, D. A. (1998). For the love of God: a daily companion for discovering the riches of God’s Word. (Vol. 1, p. 25). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

December 29 For the love of God (Vol. 2)

2 Chronicles 34; Revelation 20; Malachi 2; John 19


one of the signs that a culture is coming apart is that its people do not keep their commitments. When those commitments have been made to or before the Lord, as well as to one another, the offense is infinitely compounded.

There is something attractive and stable about a society in which, if a person gives his or her word, you can count on it. Huge deals can be sealed with a handshake because each party trusts the other. Marriages endure. People make commitments and keep them. Of course, from the vantage point of our relatively faithless society, it is easy to mock the picture I am sketching by finding examples where that sort of world may leave a person trapped in a brutal marriage or a business person snookered by an unscrupulous manipulator. But if you focus on the hard cases and organize society on growing cynicism, you foster selfish individualism, faithlessness, irresponsibility, cultural instability, crookedness, and multiplied armies of lawyers. And sooner or later you will deal with an angry God.

For God despises faithlessness (Mal. 2:1–17). Within the postexilic covenant community of ancient Israel, some of the worst examples of such faithlessness were bound up with the explicitly religious dimensions of the culture—but not all of them:

(1) The lips of the priest should “preserve knowledge” and “from his mouth men should seek instruction—because he is the messenger of the Lord Almighty” (2:7). The priest was to revere God and stand in awe of his name (2:5), convey true instruction (2:6), and maintain the way of the covenant (2:8). But because the priests have proved faithless at all this, God will cause them to be despised and humiliated before all the people (2:9). So why is it today that ministers of the Gospel are rated just above used car salesmen in terms of public confidence?

(2) As do some other prophets (e.g., Ezek. 16, 23), Malachi portrays spiritual apostasy in terms of adultery (2:10–12).

(3) Unsurprisingly, faithlessness in the spiritual arena is accompanied by faithlessness in marriages and the home (2:13–16). Oh, these folk can put on quite a spiritual display, weeping and calling down blessings from God. But God simply does not pay any attention. Why not? “It is because the Lord is acting as the witness between you and the wife of your youth, because you have broken faith with her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant” (2:14).

(4) More generically, these people have wearied the Lord with their endless casuistry, their moral relativism (2:17).

“So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith” (2:16).[1]


[1] Carson, D. A. (1998). For the love of God: a daily companion for discovering the riches of God’s Word. (Vol. 2, p. 25). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

December 29 For the love of God (Vol. 1)

2 Chronicles 34; Revelation 20; Malachi 2; John 19


in the meditation for November 9, I briefly reflected on the reforming zeal of Josiah, who led the last attempt at large-scale reformation in Judah (2 Kings 22). About three-quarters of a century had passed since the death of Hezekiah, but much of this was presided over by Manasseh, whose reign of more than half a century was almost entirely devoted to pagan evil. Now we return to the same event, this time recorded in 2 Chronicles 34. Here we may pick up some additional and complementary lessons.

(1) The rediscovery of the book of the Law (probably Deuteronomy) in the rubbish of the temple discloses to Josiah how dangerous is Judah’s position: the wrath of God hangs over her head. Josiah tears his clothes, repents, and orders reform. Moreover, he instructs his attendants to inquire of the prophetess Huldah (34:22) as to how imminent these dangers are. God’s response is that disaster and judgment on Jerusalem are now inevitable—“all the curses written in the book that has been read in the presence of the king of Judah” (34:24). The pattern of deliberate and repeated covenantal breach has become so sustained and horrific that judgment must come. However, the Lord adds, “Because your heart was responsive and you humbled yourself before God when you heard what he spoke against this place and its people, and because you humbled yourself before me and tore your robes and wept in my presence, I have heard you” (34:27)—and Josiah is assured that the impending disaster will not occur during his lifetime.

There are two obvious lessons here. First, we are afforded a glimpse of what God expects from us if we live in a time of cataclysmic declension: not philosophizing, but self-humbling, transparent repentance, tears, contrition. Second, as so often in the Bible, precisely because God is so slow to anger and so forbearing, he is more eager to suspend and delay the judgment that is the necessary correlative of his holiness than we are to beg him for mercy.

(2) The picture of the king himself calling together the elders of Judah and solemnly reading to them the Scripture (34:29–31) is enormously moving. There is nothing that our generation needs more than to hear the Word of God—and this at a time of biblical illiteracy rising at an astonishing rate. Moreover, it needs to hear Christian leaders personally submitting to Scripture, personally reading and teaching Scripture—not in veiled ways that merely assume some sort of heritage of Christian teaching while actually focusing on just about anything else, but in ways that are reverent, exemplary, comprehensive, insistent, persistent. Noth-ing, nothing at all, is more urgent.[1]


[1] Carson, D. A. (1998). For the love of God: a daily companion for discovering the riches of God’s Word. (Vol. 1, p. 25). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

December 28 For the love of God (Vol. 2)

2 Chronicles 33; Revelation 19; Malachi 1; John 18


we do not know much about Malachi. He served in the postexilic period, later than the early years when the greatest crises took place. By his day, both the wall and the temple had been rebuilt. Nehemiah, Zerubbabel, and Joshua were names in the past. The returned remnant had settled down. Nothing of great significance had occurred very recently. There was no spectacular restoration of the glory of God to the temple, envisaged by Ezekiel (43:4). The ritual was carried out, but without fervor or enthusiasm.

This is the situation Malachi addresses. It makes his words peculiarly appropriate for believers living in similar days of lethargy. There is not much going on: the political situation is stable, religious freedom is secure, the prescribed rituals are carried out—but all of it lacks not only passion but integrity, life-transformation, zeal, honor in relationships and promises, the fear of the Lord. The returned Jews are characterized by a world-weary cynicism that will not be moved.

Already Malachi 1 sets the stage:

(1) The people are not convinced that God really loves them. “How have you loved us?” they protest (1:2)—especially considering the generally sorry state of weakness and relative poverty in which they find themselves. God appeals to his love in choosing them in the first place. He chose Jacob above Esau; there was nothing intrinsic to the two men to prompt the choice. The choice is traceable to nothing more and nothing less than the electing love of God. Believers must learn to rest securely in this love, or they will be bushwhacked by every dark circumstance that comes along.

(2) In their religious practices the people perform the rituals but treat God with a distinct lack of respect. That is shown in at least two ways. (a) The law specified that those who bring a sacrifice should bring an unblemished lamb, not the weak and the crippled. Yet these people bring the worst animals from their flocks—something they would not think of doing if they were presenting a gift to an earthly monarch (1:6–9). (b) Above all, by word and deed the people treat the worship of Almighty God as a burden to be endured rather than as a delight to enjoy or at least as a happy duty to discharge. “What a burden!” (1:13), they moan, sniffing “contemptuously” (1:13).

What is at issue is that God is a great king. These people act in a way that despises him. “My name will be great among the nations, from the rising to the setting of the sun” (1:11). “For I am a great king … and my name is to be feared among the nations” (1:14). Do Malachi’s words shame our approach to God?[1]


[1] Carson, D. A. (1998). For the love of God: a daily companion for discovering the riches of God’s Word. (Vol. 2, p. 25). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

DECEMBER 28 For the love of God (Vol. 1)

2 Chronicles 33; Revelation 19; Malachi 1; John 18

REVELATION 19 IS DIVIDED into two parts. In the first part, John hears the roar of a great crowd in heaven shouting out various lines of unrestrained praise, joined by various others in antiphonal unity. The first stanza of adoration (19:1–3) praises God because he has condemned the great prostitute (see the reflections for December 26–27), thus demonstrating the truth and justice of his judgments (19:2). This stanza elicits a chorus: “Hallelujah! The smoke from her goes up for ever and ever” (19:3), and the elders around the throne join in adoring approbation (19:4). A voice from the throne exhorts all God’s servants to join in praise—”you who fear him, both small and great” (19:5)—and again John hears a vast multitude in the thunderous acclamation of worship. Now the focus is less on God’s justice in condemning the prostitute, and more on the sheer glory of the reign of “our Lord God Almighty” and on the imminent “wedding of the Lamb” (19:6–8).
The second part of the chapter depicts Jesus in highly symbolic categories. Once again it is important to remind ourselves how apocalyptic can mix its metaphors. He who from chapter 5 on is referred to most commonly as the Lamb (a designation that is still very common in chapters 21–22) is now presented as a warrior riding a white horse. This warrior is called “Faithful and True” (19:11); his name is “the Word of God” (19:13; compare John 1:1, 14), and his title is “King of kings and Lord of lords” (19:16). He leads the armies of heaven in the final assault on the two beasts (i.e., on the beast and the false prophet) and on all who bear their mark. His weapon is a sharp sword that comes out of his mouth: he needs only speak to win. It is he who “treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty” (19:15), which returns us to the terrifying image of 14:19–20.
In one sense, Revelation 19 does not advance the plotline of the book of Revelation. It does not try to do so. We have already been told that God destroys the great prostitute, that those who bear the mark of the beast must face the wrath of God, and so forth. What it adds—and this is vital—is the entirely salutary reminder that God is in absolute control, that he is to be praised for his just judgments on all that is evil, and that the agent who destroys all opposition in the end is none other than Jesus Christ. Moreover, all of this is conveyed not only in the spectacular language of apocalyptic, but with the exulting tongue of enthusiastic praise. Implicitly we readers are invited to join in, even if at this stage we do so by faith and not by sight.

Carson, D. A. (1998). For the love of God: a daily companion for discovering the riches of God’s Word. (Vol. 1, p. 25). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

December 27 For the love of God (Vol. 2)

2 Chronicles 32; Revelation 18; Zechariah 14; John 17


from time to time in these two volumes I have drawn attention to the fact that the way a biblical writer uses a word may not be the same way we use it. The serious reader of the Bible will then want to take special pains to avoid reading into the Bible what it does not say.

On the night he was betrayed, the Lord Jesus prayed for his followers in these terms: “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified” (John 17:17–19). Observe:

First, this side of the Reformation “sanctification” usually refers to the gradual growth in grace that flows out of conversion. In justification God declares us to be just, on account of the sacrifice that his Son has offered up on our behalf; in sanctification, God continues to work in us to make us more and more holy, “sanctified,” maturing into conformity with Jesus Christ. There is nothing wrong with talking like that: in the domain of systematic theology, the categories are reasonably clear. And after all, whether or not the word “sanctification” is used, there are plenty of passages that depict this sort of growth in grace (e.g., Phil. 3:10ff.).

Second, that sort of use of “sanctification” makes little sense of 17:19. When Jesus says that for the sake of his disciples “I sanctify myself,” he does not mean that for their sakes he becomes more holy than he was, a little more mature and consistent perhaps. Rather, in the light of John’s closing chapters, he means that he totally devotes himself to his Father’s will—and God’s will is that Jesus go to the cross. Jesus is entirely reserved for what the Father wants; he sanctifies himself.

Third, Jesus’ purpose in such obedience is that his disciples “may be truly sanctified” (17:19). Because of Jesus’ self-sanctification he goes to the cross and dies for his own; in consequence of this cross-work, his disciples are truly “sanctified,” i.e., set aside for God. This sounds like what systematicians call “positional sanctification”: the focus is not on growing conformity to God, but on the transformation of one’s position before God owing to Jesus’ decisive atonement.

Fourth, what Jesus asks for in his prayer is that his Father “sanctify” his disciples by the truth, i.e., by his word which is truth (17:17). He may simply be asking that they be decisively “sanctified” by the truth of the Gospel. But if an experiential, long-term dimension is also in view, this passage tells us how to become more “sanctified”—in line with Psalm 1:2; 119:109, 111.[1]


[1] Carson, D. A. (1998). For the love of God: a daily companion for discovering the riches of God’s Word. (Vol. 2, p. 25). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

December 27 For the love of God (Vol. 1)

2 Chronicles 32; Revelation 18; Zechariah 14; John 17


if revelation 17 exposes the abominations of “Babylon,” Revelation 18 announces her imminent destruction. Much of the language is drawn from Old Testament passages that predict the destruction of historic Babylon or some other pagan city characterized by corruption, violence, and idolatry.

Read the chapter again, slowly and reflectively. It is worth remembering that although Rome faced several major reverses during the ensuing three hundred years, it was not until the time of Augustine that the city was thoroughly sacked by the barbarians to the north. So much of the description of this chapter came to quite brutal and literal fulfillment. But by that time, Christianity had itself become the state religion, and many Christians therefore found the sacking difficult to accept, let alone explain.

It was Augustine who wrote a book that set the sacking of Rome in a theological context that helped Christians make sense of it all. His volume The City of God traces out two cities, the city of God and the city of man. (See the meditation for January 9.) These categories for him become the controlling typology not only for his rapid scan of biblical history, but for his analysis of good and evil within history. The work is masterful and deserves close reading even today.

Above all, Augustine warns us against associating the church and the Gospel too closely with the cities and kingdoms of this world, cities that are all temporal and temporary and slated for destruction, hopelessly compromised. By contrast, Christians should identify themselves with the new Jerusalem, the city of the great King, the Jerusalem that is above, whose builder and maker is God.

Getting these matters right is never easy or simple. “Come out of her, my people, so that you will not share in her sins, so that you will not receive any of her plagues” (18:4). In the context of the book of Revelation, this is a compelling exhortation not to align with any of “Babylon’s” corroding riches and perverted values. One must “come out” and “leave” this doomed city which stands under the judgment of Almighty God. But these words have been used to justify second- and third-degree separation, as if that is what the Apocalypse were teaching. If some enjoy Babylon so much they end up being destroyed with her, others expect to build their own centers entirely removed from Babylon’s corroding influence, without perceiving that until Jesus returns the people of God must constantly be tugged in different directions by the city of God and by the city of God’s rebellious image-bearers. Our ultimate hope is in God himself, who not only introduces the new Jerusalem (Rev. 21–22), but who brings down this “mother of prostitutes” in his own sovereign judgment.[1]


[1] Carson, D. A. (1998). For the love of God: a daily companion for discovering the riches of God’s Word. (Vol. 1, p. 25). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

December 26 For the love of God (Vol. 2)

2 Chronicles 31; Revelation 17; Zechariah 13:2–9; John 16


in some ways zechariah 13:2–9 continues with the theme of leadership. But it has two parts, each with very distinctive emphases:

(1) In 13:2–6 God condemns the false shepherds—a common theme, of course (e.g., Jer. 23:9ff.; Ezek. 13; 34:1–10). Moreover, it fits the immediately preceding verses. There, we saw, a fountain is opened up for the cleansing of the inhabitants of Jerusalem in general, and for the house of David in particular. But if citizens and royalty alike are purified, so also must the religious leaders be purified. “On that day” (13:2), God declares, he will banish not only the idols but the false prophets from the land. So transformed will be the situation that the covenantal ideal will be in force (Deut. 13:6–11): if someone says “Thus says the Lord” when the Lord has not spoken, his closest family members will be the first to silence him. Those who in the past have been false prophets will be so ashamed of themselves that when they are challenged they will insist that they are farmers (13:4–5). If there are “prophetic scars” on their bodies (doubtless from self-inflicted wounds tied to ecstatic paganism, as in 1 Kings 18:28) they will lie through their teeth and insist that the scars were the result of some brawl or other that went on “at the house of my friends” (13:6).

The point is that in the final arrangements of things, false teaching and false prophecy will be a thing of the past. Those with ears to hear should therefore abominate all such “prophecy” already, as a mark of attentiveness to the true word of the Lord.

(2) Some have wondered if the final three verses (13:7–9) have somehow been misplaced from the end of chapter 11, where Zechariah has devoted a lot of attention to shepherds. In fact, these verses would not have made much sense there but they are admirably suitable here. Chapter 11 ends with Zechariah representing the worthless shepherd who undergoes divine disapproval. But the shepherd in 13:7–9 is one God approves. The connections with the preceding two sections are easier to demonstrate. In 12:10–13:1, Yahweh himself is wounded, pierced through; and then false prophets are denounced (13:2–9). But there is still a need for the right shepherd. The right one is God’s shepherd, “my shepherd … the man who is close to me” (13:7). God commands the sword to strike him (reflect on Acts 4:27–28). Elsewhere, God himself is the shepherd, and so is his servant David (Ezek. 34); so here, God himself is pierced through, and so also is his shepherd. The first result is that the sheep scatter (13:7; see Mark 14:27; Matt. 26:31); the ultimate result is the purification and faithfulness of the people of God (13:9).[1]


[1] Carson, D. A. (1998). For the love of God: a daily companion for discovering the riches of God’s Word. (Vol. 2, p. 25). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

December 26 For the love of God (Vol. 1)

2 Chronicles 31; Revelation 17; Zechariah 13:2–9; John 16


the vision of the prostitute of Revelation 17 is replete with colorful language that has confounded many an interpreter. Yet the main lines are reasonably clear, and even the more disputed points are not completely obscure. Here we may reflect on three matters:

(1) Her basic identification to any reader in the first century would not have been in doubt. Reference to the seven hills on which the woman sits (17:9), plus the explicit statement that the woman “is the great city that rules over the kings of the earth” (17:18), would identify her with Rome.

(2) Formally, she is identified in slightly obscure terms: “Mystery: Babylon the Great, the Mother of Prostitutes and of the Abominations of the Earth” (17:5). Historical Babylon was by this point a ruin of a place, a relatively small and certainly enfeebled center without significant influence. But Babylon had stood in Old Testament times for all that was pagan, powerful, self-promoting, and vile. Babylon was the city that had sent Judah and Jerusalem into exile (however much the people of God had earned the judgment). Now the ancient city’s name is transferred to Rome, the new geopolitical center. The word prostitutes is not in the first instance referring to ordinary human prostitutes, but to spiritual prostitution (once again drawn from the Old Testament). “The mother of all X” is a Semitic way of saying something like “the archetype of all X.” And at the time, Rome was certainly, in this sense, the mother of all spiritual prostitution, the fount of the abominations of the earth. The title was merited not only because of her paganism, political corruption, endless violence and perversion, extraordinary wealth and wretched poverty, but also because this was the center where a human being, the current Caesar, was addressed on minted coins as “Our Lord and God,” and from which emanated the political will that was increasingly directed against the people of God.

(3) The seven heads of this prostitute, we are told, point in two directions. On the one hand, they point to the seven hills of Rome. They also point to seven kings, five of whom have fallen, “one is, the other has not yet come” (17:10). It is extremely difficult to align this list with the known Caesars of the first century. Various connections have been drawn; I am uncertain which one is right. But the beast on which the woman is riding, certainly identified with the beast out of the sea from chapter 13, this beast that receives a fatal wound and then is healed, “is an eighth king” (17:11). This suggests to many (rightly, I think) a manifestation of evil beyond the Roman Empire.[1]


[1] Carson, D. A. (1998). For the love of God: a daily companion for discovering the riches of God’s Word. (Vol. 1, p. 25). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

December 25 For the love of God (Vol. 2)

2 Chronicles 30; Revelation 16; Zechariah 12:1–13:1; John 15


the last three chapters of Zechariah (chaps. 12–14) develop themes that appeared in chapters 9–11. But there is a rising intensity, signaled by the phrase “on that day,” repeated sixteen times. The climax is in the last chapter, where God’s universal kingdom is fully established.

Zechariah 12 is part of this rising intensity. The first part (12:1–9) is superficially easy to understand, but at one level its interpretation is difficult; the second part (12:10–13:1) is immensely evocative, and is cited in the New Testament.

(1) The first part pictures the formerly scattered exiles, now returned to Jerusalem, facing the onslaught of hostile nations. It appears that even Judah initially abandons Jerusalem: the NEB’s translation is probably right: “Judah will be caught up in the siege of Jerusalem.” Then the Lord intervenes and makes “Jerusalem a cup that sends all the surrounding peoples reeling” (12:2). God confounds the cavalry charges (12:4), and the people of Judah take courage from the steadfastness of the Jerusalemites (12:5). As a result, the fact that they are among the enemy is turned to advantage: they are like fire that ignites dry tinder (12:6). The triumph is glorious (12:7–9).

So far, so good. But of what does this speak? The question cannot be answered without recourse to other Scriptures, to an entire way of putting the Bible together. Some think that this refers to empirical Jerusalem at some point in the future, with (presumably) suitable shifts from cavalry to something more modern. Others think this is an apocalyptic vision of final assaults on the people of God, on the citizens of the new Jerusalem. Does the next section shed light on the debate?

(2) The second section is in stunning contrast to the first. The house of David and the Jerusalemites have just been powerfully encouraged. Yet now God himself pours upon them a spirit of contrition (12:10), certainly not a spirit of triumphalism. They find themselves mourning for someone put to death in the city, and being cleansed from their sin and impurity by a new fountain “opened to the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem” (13:1). Who is this person, pierced through, for whom the people mourn? The most natural reading of the Hebrew is that it is Yahweh himself: “They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn” (12:10). At one level the “piercing” can be understood metaphorically: Yahweh is “wounded” in exactly the same way that he is cuckolded in Hosea. But there is a more literal fulfillment, a more literal piercing (John 19:34, 37). What is the good of a merely military triumph unless the people of God mourn for what they have done to God—and discover that he has opened a fountain to cleanse them from their sin (13:1)?[1]


[1] Carson, D. A. (1998). For the love of God: a daily companion for discovering the riches of God’s Word. (Vol. 2, p. 25). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

December 25 For the love of God (Vol. 1)

2 Chronicles 30; Revelation 16; Zechariah 12:1–13:1; John 15


the seven bowls of god’s wrath (Rev. 16), containing the seven last plagues (see also Rev. 15), are poured out on the earth. Doubtless much of the language is symbol-laden; some of it is transparent, some of it more difficult to understand. Here I wish to focus on one clause that is repeated. When the fourth angel poured out his bowl, the people “cursed the name of God, who had control over these plagues, but they refused to repent and glorify him” (16:9, italics added). Similarly after the fifth bowl: people “gnawed their tongues in agony and cursed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, but they refused to repent of what they had done” (16:11, italics added).

We must reflect on these somber passages.

(1) They occur immediately after the semi-poetical lines of the previous verses: “You are just in these judgments, you who are and who were, the Holy One, because you have so judged; for they have shed the blood of your saints and prophets, and have given them blood to drink as they deserve.… Yes, Lord God Almighty, true and just are your judgments” (16:5–7). We have come upon this theme before. If God ignores the persistent attacks on his covenant people, if he pretends that the massive evils that have been perpetrated in the world never happened, he himself is diminished: he is at best amoral, perhaps immoral.

(2) In some ways, the terrible words of 16:9, 11 explain something of hell itself. Hell is not filled with people who have learned their lesson. It is filled with people who still refuse to repent. Like those who suffer from these plagues, they suffer and curse God because of their suffering, but they refuse to repent of what they have done. That is what hell is like: an ongoing cycle of sin, rebellion, judgment, sin, rebellion, judgment, world without end.

(3) These passages of horrible judgment must be seen in the framework of the entire book of Revelation. Already Revelation 5 has drawn attention to the Lion/Lamb whose triumphant suffering has rescued men and women from every tribe and language and people and nation. Revelation ends with an invitation: the Spirit and the Bride (another word for the church, the people of God) still cry “Come!” (22:17). “And let him who hears say, ‘Come!’ Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life” (22:17).

It is written: “Let him who does wrong continue to do wrong; let him who is vile continue to be vile; let him who does right continue to do right; and let him who is holy continue to be holy” (22:11).[1]


[1] Carson, D. A. (1998). For the love of God: a daily companion for discovering the riches of God’s Word. (Vol. 1, p. 25). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

December 24 For the love of God (Vol. 2)

2 Chronicles 29; Revelation 15; Zechariah 11; John 14


zechariah has already used imagery associated with sheep and shepherd (9:16; 10:2, 3, 8–12; 11:3). Now he deploys it at length (Zech. 11:4–17). The passage is difficult. Probably it is an extended allegory, rather than something acted out, if only because of all the other people involved. Quite certainly its purpose is to overturn a major assumption about leadership. Many think that if a nation has the right ruler, all will be well. But here the right shepherd is hated and rejected.

(1) The “Lord my God,” Zechariah says, gives the people one last chance (11:4–6). God commissions him to serve as shepherd of a flock “marked for slaughter,” i.e., raised for their meat. The “sheep” are oppressed people, while their oppressors are variously their own shepherds who fatten them for the slaughter, and the traders who “slaughter them and go unpunished” (11:5). The language that describes their owners is scathing: they sell them for slaughter and say, “Praise the Lord, I am rich!” (11:5)—as if wealth were a reliable index of the Lord’s favor (cf. Mark 10:23). The “buyers” in the parable are the occupying powers. Thus the “sellers,” the leaders of the covenant people, are complicit in “selling out” their people. Zechariah’s mission as a shepherd, to save this flock, appears doomed to failure. God himself will turn the people over to their own neighbors and their own king. They are not loyal to him, and he abandons them to their fellow citizens—and God will not rescue them (11:6).

(2) In the second section (11:7–14), the good shepherd, Zechariah, is rejected. One might have thought that the flock would turn to him for rescue, since everyone else—sellers, shepherds, buyers—are intent on selling them and profiting from them. But the flock detests the good shepherd (11:8). Eventually he abandons the sheep to follow the course they are determined to take (11:9). The staff called “Favor” or “Graciousness” is broken, as is the covenant made “with all the nations” (probably referring to the Jewish colonies scattered among many nations, as in Joel 2:6). So the merchants who provided Zechariah’s salary, and who doubtless wanted him to be gone, unwittingly accomplish God’s judicial will and buy off Zechariah with a final payment of thirty pieces of silver. These Zechariah is commanded to throw to the potter (a craftsman who worked with both clay and metal), presumably so that he could make a little figurine, a little godlet (11:12–13). Those who reject the good shepherd are left with idols—and disunity (11:14).

(3) In the closing lines (11:15–17) Zechariah acts out the only alternative to a good shepherd: a worthless shepherd.

How much did Jesus meditate on this chapter—the good shepherd rejected by so many of his people and dismissed for thirty pieces of silver?[1]


[1] Carson, D. A. (1998). For the love of God: a daily companion for discovering the riches of God’s Word. (Vol. 2, p. 25). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

December 24 For the love of God (Vol. 1)

2 Chronicles 29; Revelation 15; Zechariah 11; John 14


with the exception of only a few verses, most of the material in 2 Chronicles 29–31 has no parallel in 2 Kings. What these chapters provide is a detailed account of how King Hezekiah went about reinstituting temple worship that was in line with the Law of God delivered through Moses, and then called the covenant people together not only from Judah but even some from Israel to celebrate the Passover in a way that had not been done for some time.

Here we may focus on 2 Chronicles 29. Paganism had taken such a hold on the people that temple service had fallen into disuse. The temple had become a repository for junk; even the doors needed fixing. Still only twenty-five years old, King Hezekiah, in the first month of his reign (29:3), opened the doors and repaired them. He found some priests and Levites and instructed them to consecrate themselves according to the rites established in the Law, and then to set about cleaning, repairing, and reconsecrating the temple. Moreover, Hezekiah recognized that the past failures in this respect had invited the wrath of God (29:6). He was not so foolish as to think the failures were merely a matter of ritual: he saw the larger picture, but perceived, rightly, that the utter neglect of the ritual demonstrated that the hearts of priests, Levites, people, and king alike were entirely alienated from God. His open intention was to reverse this pattern and inaugurate a covenant with the Lord (29:10).

The rest of the chapter details what was done. More priests and Levites came on board. The musical instruments secured by David were restored to use. Even small deviations from the Law are recorded, such as the permission to allow the Levites to help with the skinning of the animals for the sacrifices, owing to the fact that at this point too few priests were consecrated (29:32–34).

“So the service of the temple of the Lord was reestablished. Hezekiah and all the people rejoiced at what God had brought about for his people, because it was done so quickly” (29:35–36).

So it is when genuine revival comes in considerable proportion. Inevitably, God raises up a leader whose prophetic insistence proves irresistible, first to a few, and then to a great crowd. And in the best instances it is not long before men and women look back and marvel at how fast the face of things was massively transformed. They conclude, rightly, that the only explanation is that God himself has done it—that is, that the transformation is not finally attributable to reforming zeal or organizing skill, but to a God who has changed people’s hearts.[1]


[1] Carson, D. A. (1998). For the love of God: a daily companion for discovering the riches of God’s Word. (Vol. 1, p. 25). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

December 23 For the love of God (Vol. 2)

2 Chronicles 27–28; Revelation 14; Zechariah 10; John 13


the account of jesus washing his disciples’ feet (John 13:1–17) is narrated to establish several points:

(1) Walking on dusty roads in open sandals took its toll. Many homes would assign the lowest of the servants to wash the feet of visitors. On this occasion, however, Jesus and his closest disciples are on their own, and no one thinks to take on the role of the humblest servant—no one, that is, but Jesus himself. The way John marshals the facts shows that, decades later when he is writing these lines, he is still awed by the dimensions of the deed. Jesus knows that it is time for him to go to the cross, “to leave this world and go to the Father” (13:1), but he is not self-absorbed. He knows that one of those whose feet he will wash is Judas Iscariot, who, sold out as he is to the devil, is in the process of betraying him. Jesus knows whence he has come, “that he had come from God and was returning to God” (13:3). All along he has “loved his own who were in the world,” and now he shows them “the full extent of his love” (13:1)—not only the footwashing itself, but the cross, to which the footwashing points (as we shall see). Knowing all this, loving like this, “he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist” (13:4)—it is as if every step has been indelibly burned onto John’s memory, and he can play it back, again and again, in slow motion. In the hush of the room, Jesus washes his disciples’ feet.

(2) Peter balks (13:6–11). The exchange that follows is multi-layered. On the surface of things, there is a form of humility that is actually proud. In one sense, the most humbling thing to endure in this setting is Jesus washing your feet. So there is a lesson in humility. But there is something deeper: “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand” (13:7); Jesus’ washing of his disciples’ feet anticipates, symbolically, the washing that is accomplished by the cross, the supreme self-humiliation that is displayed in the cross. Peter will understand such things only after the events. And then, in a moment of flip-flop enthusiasm, Peter wants a bath, and a third level is peeled back to view: a person who is already clean does not need a bath, but only to have his feet washed (13:10). And in some respects the disciples, with the exception of the son of perdition, are already clean. Here, then, is a picture of the “once-for-all” element in the cross (cf. Heb. 9:11–14, 23–26); we do not need a new sacrifice, but fresh confession (1 John 1:7, 9).

(3) And always there is the demand to be like Jesus. Reflect on 13:12–17 and its bearing on us today.[1]


[1] Carson, D. A. (1998). For the love of God: a daily companion for discovering the riches of God’s Word. (Vol. 2, p. 25). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

December 23 For the love of God (Vol. 1)

2 Chronicles 27–28; Revelation 14; Zechariah 10; John 13


in revelation 13, we discovered that all those under the authority of the unholy triumvirate have a mark on their foreheads. This means that they can participate in the world order of the dragon and his beasts and be spared the wrath of Satan. Here in Revelation 14, we learn that God’s people also have something on their foreheads—the name of the Lamb and of the Father (14:1). These people stand on Mount Zion with the Lamb and are spared all the wrath of the Lamb. By contrast, those with the mark of the beast must now face the wrath of the Lamb, drinking “of the wine of God’s fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath” (14:10–11).

The imagery comes from quite a different vision, from Ezekiel 9, where Ezekiel sees God instructing a man dressed in linen to put a mark on the foreheads of all the people in Jerusalem who grieve over its sin. When the angelic executioners go through the city, bent on destruction and slaughter, they spare all those who have God’s mark on their foreheads. That imagery has now been adapted in two quite different ways in Revelation. Now everyone has a mark on the forehead. Either you have the mark of the beast, and you are spared the wrath of the beast but must face God’s fury; or you have the mark of the Lamb, which means you are spared God’s fury but you must face the sanctions of the beast.

So whose wrath would you rather face? You will face one or the other. Would you rather face the wrath of Satan, or the wrath of God?

The Lord Jesus taught us that the person to fear is the One who can cast both body and soul into hell (Matt. 10:28). Few passages are more terrifying about that prospect than Revelation 14. We are bluntly told that “the smoke of their torment rises for ever and ever. There is no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and his image, or for anyone who receives the mark of his name” (14:11). Few passages are more explicit about the eternal longevity of this punishment. The final graphic portrait (14:19–20) is unimaginably horrific. In the ancient world, large stone vats with holes punched in the bottom were filled with grapes, and servant girls jumped in and tramped down the grapes, squeezing out the juice that ran out through the holes and was gathered for use in winemaking. But now in the wake of the final harvest, one must assume it is people who are thrown into this vat, for what flows out from “the great winepress of God’s wrath” (14:19) is blood, flowing outward for 180 miles.

So, whose wrath would you rather face?[1]


[1] Carson, D. A. (1998). For the love of God: a daily companion for discovering the riches of God’s Word. (Vol. 1, p. 25). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

December 22 For the love of God (Vol. 2)

2 Chronicles 26; Revelation 13; Zechariah 9; John 12


zechariah 9–14 constitutes a second and distinctive part of the book. With their apocalyptic images and colorful metaphors, these chapters include many units hard to understand. Usually, however, the main line of thought is clear enough. Zechariah 9 can be divided into three sections:

(1) The first is “an oracle” (9:1–8). The peculiar word used suggests something of compulsion: this oracle is a “burden” to the prophet, and he cannot keep it in. In the past, most of Israel’s enemies have come from the north. In this oracle, however, it is Yahweh himself who advances on the Promised Land from the north. The sequence of cities mentioned establishes the geography: he will conquer all the cities down the coast and come to his own house (9:8) and defend his own people. The ultimate hope of God’s people resides in something more dramatic than the return from exile that they have already experienced. It resides in the supreme visitation of Almighty God.

(2) The second section depicts the arrival of the king (9:9–10). These verses are steeped in allusions to earlier Old Testament passages—to the figure pictured in Genesis 49:10–11, to the kingly deeds of Micah 5:10, to the extent of his kingdom in Psalm 72:8, and so forth. The figure, in short, is messianic, yet the preceding verses depict Yahweh himself coming to rescue his people. Thus in some respects the passage is akin to Isaiah 9:1ff.: there, too, a prophet looks forward to a Davidic king, yet one who is called “the mighty God.” Matthew 21:5 and John 12:15 allude to this passage in their respective accounts of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Neither of them refers to verse 10, for both of these evangelists are aware that only a partial fulfillment has taken place in their day. Unqualified disarmament and unqualified peace among the nations (9:10) await the consummation. In this sort of partial quotation of an Old Testament text they follow the example of the Lord Jesus, who for exactly the same reason—that is, because the final judgment still lies in the future—cites certain parts of Old Testament passages and not others (cf. Matt. 11:2–19, and meditation for July 1).

(3) God still speaks, and he gives all the reasons for rejoicing (9:11–17). He himself will come and free the prisoners, for his covenantal faithfulness has been sealed in blood—not only in the Abrahamic covenant (Gen. 15:9–11) but in its extension in the Mosaic covenant (Ex. 24:8), and supremely in the blood of the new covenant that was shed on a hill outside Jerusalem (see Mark 14:24).[1]


[1] Carson, D. A. (1998). For the love of God: a daily companion for discovering the riches of God’s Word. (Vol. 2, p. 25). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

December 22 For the love of God (Vol. 1)

2 Chronicles 26; Revelation 13; Zechariah 9; John 12


it turns out that Satan has two unholy beasts to assist him, one that comes out of the sea (Rev. 13:1–10), and the other out of the earth (13:11–18). Together they constitute an unholy triumvirate that in some ways apes the Trinity.

Admittedly, many of the apocalyptic symbols in this chapter have been interpreted in mutually exclusive ways by different schools of thought. It is entirely beyond these brief meditations to defend a particular structure. In my view, however, these beasts represent recurring historical manifestations of evil—in the one case, evil in its guise as outright opposition against the people of God, and in the other, evil in its guise as religious deception. (It is not for nothing that the beast out of the earth is described later in this book as “the false prophet”: e.g., 19:20.) Satan deploys not only agents who overtly and viciously attack believers, but also agents whose mission it is to seduce and deceive, if it is possible, the very elect.

Observe one of the extraordinary elements in the description of the first beast. He has received a fatal wound, but the wound has been healed. This sounds incongruous: surely if the wound has been healed, it was not fatal, and if it was fatal then obviously it could not be healed. But this symbolism is meant to describe the repeated historical manifestations of this monster. He emerges in a Nero, in the Roman Emperor, in Innocent III, in a Hitler. In every case, the monster is cut down. Many people think that evil in its worst form has finally been destroyed. The thousand-year Reich lasts a decade and a half: surely this was the war to end all wars. Then the genocide starts again—in the Eastern block, in China, in Cambodia, in Rwanda. The beast receives a fatal wound, but always the beast comes back to life.

Note some of the symbols used to describe the false prophet. He looks like a lamb, but he speaks like a dragon (13:11): this probably does not mean that he roars like a dragon and scares everyone off, but that he appears innocent, even though his speech is the speech of the dragon—the “great dragon” of 12:9, none other than Satan himself. This “lamb” turns out to be Satan’s mouthpiece. He performs miraculous signs and thereby deceives the inhabitants of the earth (13:14). There is no suggestion that the signs are mere tricks; miraculous power does not necessarily attest divine power. Ultimately he uses the authority he derives from the first beast to constitute an exclusive identity for his own followers, excluding all others with severe economic sanctions (13:16–17). Even little historical knowledge can remember manifestations of such deceitful coercion.[1]


[1] Carson, D. A. (1998). For the love of God: a daily companion for discovering the riches of God’s Word. (Vol. 1, p. 25). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.